Arkansans tell of positive experiences with insurance marketplace


LITTLE ROCK — Despite technical problems that previously plagued the federal health insurance marketplace website, several Arkansans said Thursday they had no trouble using the site this month to view their insurance options.

They spoke at a news conference at the state Capitol organized by Arkansans for Care, a nonprofit group that supports the state’s plan to expand health care coverage through the so-called “private option.” The group invited people to sign an over-sized thank-you card that opened to reveal the words, “Thank you, representatives, for finding a bipartisan solution to healthcare!”

Also Thursday, the state Democratic Party circulated a poster mocking Republican gubernatorial candidate Asa Hutchinson for not taking a position on the private option and the National Federal of Independent Business announced an ad campaign in Arkansas criticizing the federal health care law.

Health insurance marketplaces, where people and small businesses can shop for plans that suit their needs, launched on Oct. 1, but the federal marketplace website — which Arkansans must use if they enroll on line — was troubled by glitches in October and November. Speakers at Thursday’s news conference said they had positive experiences with the site this month, however.

“It took me 20 minutes to sign up online last week. It was super easy,” said David Monteith of Little Rock, a self-employed education consultant. “That’s going to bring me so much peace of mind in 2014. The time and energy that I would have spent worried about health and health care is time and energy that I can devote to giving back to the community and continuing to improve education.”

Shanice Hood, a full-time student at the University of Arkansas at Little Rock, said she is participating in the private option, which will use federal Medicaid money to subsidize private insurance for people earning up to 138 percent of the federal poverty level. She said she signed up for coverage early this month with the help of state marketplace guides.

“The process was really easy,” said Hood, who is from Beebe. “They were there with me the entire time. They walked with me step-by-step through the process, and once the process was over with I was registered. We waited about 10 minutes, and I was actually the first person to get registered and enrolled for a plan the same day.”

Some state legislators have said they want to defund the private option during the fiscal session that begins in February. Emily Farris of Little Rock, one of the organizers of the news conference, said Arkansans for Health hopes the Legislature will “keep funding it, keep supporting it.”

By the end of last week, 86,374 Arkansans had applied for the private option, 72,361 of them had been found eligible and 61,374 of them had completed the enrollment process, according to the state Department of Human Services. The agency also determined that 5,700 of the applicants would be better served through the traditional Medicaid program.

As of Nov. 30, 1,400 Arkansans not participating in the private option had enrolled in health insurance through the federal health insurance marketplace website, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

The state Democratic Party on Thursday began circulating a poster that says, “Missing: Asa Hutchinson’s position on bipartisan Medicaid private option.” The poster includes a photo of Hutchinson and resembles a poster for a missing person or pet.

Hutchinson has said it would be premature for him to take a position on whether to continue funding the private option.

The NFIB said Thursday it is spending $550,000 to run an anti-Affordable Care Act ad statewide on broadcast and cable television. The 30-second spot urges people to contact U.S. Sen. Mark Pryor, D-Ark., and tell him that “Obamacare is broken.”

John Parke, chief operating officer of Democrat Printing and Lithographing Co. in Little Rock, says in the ad that “what Obamacare means for Arkansas’ small business is tough choices — the mandates, the increased costs, the increased taxes.”